JWF apprentices

Frank Wires (left), a set-up machinist, talks to a group of prospective apprentices at JWF Industries’ machine shop in the Woodvale section of Johnstown.

Job vacancies are common at JWF Industries’ machine shop, but company officials say it’s often a struggle to fill them through the local workforce.

So they’ve decided to build their own.

Through support from the Department of Labor, JWF’s Woodvale machine shop has started an apprentice program to bring in untrained recruits and assign them to a paid, on-the-job training program where they’d work their way up the ranks over a period of up to four years.

“Instead of going to school for this training, they can come here and get paid to earn their certification,” shop operations manager Jim Wiesheier said.

Entry-level apprentices would start out as machine operators for approximately 18 months and continue training to upper-level positions, such as setup machinist.

With each upgrade, pay levels increase, too, Wiesheier said. A machinist earns “a solid, family-sustaining income,” according to the operations manager.

Tuesday’s tour brought a crowd of about 50 people through JWF Machining’s doors. While no prior training is needed, JWF will test applicants with prior machining experience and start them at the appropriate training level, a move that could significantly shorten the training window, he said.

If apprentices stick with the job for a year, costs are covered, Wiesheier said during the tour.

Behind him, visitors watched as a machinist set specifications on a box-shaped, remote-operated machine used to mill down metal components to precise specifications.

“It seems like a good career to get into,” said Tyler George, 16, of Brush Valley.

The Indiana County Technology Center student said he’s been doing some basic machining at school and was impressed by the technology JWF uses. He said he hoped he might be able to enroll in the apprenticeship program while still in high school.

Meanwhile, Steve Melendez, 50, of Johnstown, was considering a career change.

“Coming here and seeing what they do ... and how they do things, made a difference,” he said. “I’m definitely looking into this.”

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst.

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